VMware Horizon Cloud on Azure launches support for Windows Virtual Desktop

Customers won’t see a huge number of technical changes, but the licensing and strategy implications sure are significant.

Today, VMware is announcing the general availability of support for Windows Virtual Desktop workloads in Horizon Cloud on Azure. There are a couple of different things to break down here, plus now is also a good time to check in on the progress of the broader Horizon strategy announced at VMworld.

What does Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) support actually mean?

Horizon Cloud on Azure customers will now have the option to run workload operating systems using the entitlements that they get as part of Windows Virtual Desktop licensing. Most notably, these operating systems include Windows 10 Enterprise Multi-Session and Windows 7 with extended support updates. And as we know, just about all enterprise customers are entitled to use WVD, as it is included with all sorts of Microsoft 365 and Windows 10 plans.

Now for a quick side note, as I’ve mentioned in all of my articles about WVD over the last 18 months: Remember that WVD is really two things. First, it’s a set of licensing entitlements to run virtual desktop workloads in Azure. Second, it’s a new Azure-based virtual desktop control plane, which is the modern successor to Microsoft Remote Desktop Services. Customers can manage their WVD-licensed workloads with the WVD control plane, or they can manage their WVD workloads with Horizon Cloud on Azure (or Citrix Cloud) as the control plane.

Horizon Cloud has supported workloads in Azure for three years now, so really, the main difference to customers is that they’ll have more OS options to choose from.

However, there’s another important change happening behind the scenes. As part of the deal to support WVD, VMware is also moving the Horizon Cloud control plane, so that it is hosted in Azure instead of its old location, in AWS. This is also generally available today. (Here's VMware's blog post.)

VMware customers simply consume Horizon Cloud as SaaS, so they shouldn’t see any differences in the product, but there is one key detail to be aware of. Customers must be using the new Azure-hosted Horizon Cloud environment to use WVD-licensed workloads.

All new customers as of today will be provisioned in this new environment, so they’ll be able to use WVD workloads immediately. However, existing customers will have to be migrated. I spoke with Gabe at VMware about this, and he said that VMware will contact customers when they’re ready to move them. The process will be handled by VMware, and will result in little to no user downtime.

VMware and Microsoft are really in a symbiotic relationship here. As we’ve discussed many times, Microsoft sees WVD as a huge way to sell Azure compute hours, and they’ll get that with WVD workloads regardless of which control plane customers choose. The WVD control plane is still missing some enterprise features, so having other control plane options like Horizon Cloud will help customers move to WVD workloads faster.

Update on Horizon Service, formerly Horizon Services for Multi-cloud

At VMworld, we learned about VMware’s overarching Horizon 7 and Horizon Cloud strategy, called Horizon Services for Multi-Cloud. We’re actually closer to VMword 2020 than 2019 (what a thought!), so I got an update on this from Gabe, too.

Remember that as of last fall, the universal Horizon license and universal monitoring service were already out. Here’s what’s new since then:

  • First of all, this effort is now just called Horizon Service, since it also covers on-premises workloads.
  • The Horizon universal broker now supports Horizon 7; support for Horizon Cloud is on the roadmap.
  • The universal image management service is generally available for Horizon 7, and on the roadmap for Horizon Cloud.
  • App Volumes 4 is generally available for Horizon 7; and in tech preview for Horizon Cloud.

VMware didn’t give specific timelines for availability, but I think it’s safe to assume that we’ll hear plenty more by VMworld or sooner. Remember, VMware also talked about creating tools for automatically deploying Horizon 7 on VMware Cloud on AWS, and Horizon Desktop-as-a-Service on VMware Cloud on AWS.

Final thoughts

Now there’s another way to get Windows Virtual Desktop. I’m not going to call this the year of DaaS, but I will say that there are more options for cloud desktops than ever before, which make for super interesting times in desktop virtualization.

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